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Activism in museums, does it ridicule or help in the fight against climate change?

Updated: Nov 23, 2022

We would love for climate change to end just by dirtying a Van Gogh painting, but it's not that simple. These protests have tainted, once again, the main objective of the fight against climate change.

Recently, activists across Europe have filled well-known artworks, from Van Gogh's "The Sunflowers" to Goya's "Las Majas", with food and paint, in a bid to protest the climate crisis and the inaction of governments. In each case, the protesters were arrested for their actions.

While some of the historic frames were damaged, the paintings themselves were protected by glass and did not sustain any damage. Trouble comes when the tactic of throwing food at famous artworks to protest climate inaction sparks an international outcry. Many environmental activists are wondering if this could hurt support for the cause.

In general, the public tends to react negatively to protests involving the destruction of property, and while they can be effective in attracting attention, that attention may not be useful if perceptions are negative.

Climate activists have been called insane for decades, and acts like this have only made the situation worse. While they have garnered a lot of attention, making headlines around the world and creating thousands of comments on social media, this attention can be negative towards the cause.

These kinds of protests are exactly the kind of behaviour that leads observers to see activists as extremist and unreasonable, alienating observers and potentially reducing support for their cause.

That is why throwing food at artworks, painting the walls where they are exposed or sticking yourself to their frames, does nothing but ridicule the climate movement and damage its main objective: raising awareness about climate change and provide tools to help stop it.

The 27th United Nations Conference on Climate Change began on November 6 and will last until November 18. António Guterres, Secretary General of the United Nations, opened the COP with the words “The deadly impact of climate change is here and now”.

This message is nothing new, as it has been shouted by climate activists not only for the past few weeks in their attacks on museums, but for years. That is why urgent action is now expected at COP 27 against climate change, especially now that it is no longer possible to limit global warming to 1.5 °C.

At the moment, the only thing we can do individually is to continue fighting climate change by recycling, reusing, reducing our emissions and changing our lifestyle to a more sustainable one. If we don't start the change from the bottom, it will never reach the top.

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